A People's History of US Author Howard Zinn: An Activist's Legacy
Howard Zinn (1922-2010) was a historian, playwright, and activist. He wrote the classic A People's History of the United States, "a brilliant and moving history of the American people from the point of view of those ... whose plight has been largely omitted from most histories" (Library Journal).
The book, which has sold more than 2 million copies, has been featured on The Sopranos and Simpsons, and in the film Good Will Hunting. On December 13, 2009, History Channel aired The People Speak, an acclaimed documentary co-directed by Zinn, based on A People's History and a companion volume, Voices of a People's History of the United States.
Howard Zinn's Biography
Howard Zinn (1922-2010) grew up in Brooklyn in a working-class, immigrant household. At 18 he became a shipyard worker and then flew bomber missions during World War II. These experiences helped shape his opposition to war and passion for history.
After attending college under the GI Bill and earning a Ph.D. in history from Columbia, he taught at Spelman, where he became active in the civil rights movement. After being fired by Spelman for his support for student protesters, Zinn became a professor of Political Science at Boston University, were he taught until his retirement in 1988.
Zinn's books, include an autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train, the play Marx in Soho, and Passionate Declarations. He received the Lannan Foundation Literary Award for Nonfiction and the Eugene V. Debs award for his writing and political activism.
He captured this sentiment well in a comment he made in his autobiography, You Can't Be Neutral on a Moving Train. He wrote:"From the start, my teaching was infused with my own history. I would try to be fair to other points of view, but I wanted more than 'objectivity'; I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble."
A description of this documentary premiering Sunday December 13, 2009 on the History Channel reads: Democracy is not a spectator sport. Using dramatic and musical performances of the letters, diaries and speeches of everyday Americans, The People Speak gives voice to those who spoke up for social change throughout U.S. history, forging a nation from the bottom up with their insistence on equality and justice.
The documentary illustrates the relevance of these passionate historical moments to our society today and reminds us never to take liberty for granted.
Henry A. Geroux's Tribute to Howard Zinn
"reading Howard gave me the theoretical tools to understand more clearly how the mix of biography, cultural capital and class location could be finely honed into a viable and laudable politics."
Howard Zinn urged his students not just to learn from history, but to use it as a resource to sharpen their intellectual prowess and hone their civic responsibilities...they had to link what they learned to a self-reflective understanding of their own responsibility as engaged individuals and social actors. There is a certain poetry in his pedagogical style and scholarship and it is captured in his belief that one can take a position without standing still.
"Protest beyond the law is not departure from democracy; it is absolutely essential to it." -Howard Zinn